We now create as much information every two days, as we did from the birth of civilization to the year 2003.
According to Google’s Eric Schmidt, that’s equivalent to 5 billion gigabytes of information.
Blogs alone account for more than 2 million new posts each day.
Marketers have a serious attention span problem — how do you make your product, service, or personal brand stand out?
Because here’s the thing, nobody cares about you, at least not in the beginning. Until you’ve built a real relationship with someone, every transaction you make is a pure value exchange.
At Authority Unleashed, I’ll show you how to build a personal brand that differentiates your business, but when you’re first starting out, you need to clearly articulate why people should listen to you.
In other words, you need a unique value proposition.
That’s why I’ve dedicated the first post on Authority Unleashed to sharing everything you need to know about writing persuasive value propositions.
You’ll discover how to write value propositions that differentiate:
- Your product or service
- Your company
- Your personal brand
By the end, you’ll know how to write value propositions worthy of Donald Draper.
What is a unique value proposition?
The importance of unique value propositions was first identified by Rosser Reeves, the legendary TV advertiser that AMC used as a model for Donald Draper’s character.
Unlike his TV counterpart, Reeves never lost a client in his 26-year career.
In his book, Reality In Advertising, Reeves credits his success to identifying his clients’ unique selling propositions and integrating them into short, powerful ads.
One of his most famous selling propositions was: “M&Ms…melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”
While Reeves focused on “unique selling propositions,” these days we understand that there are other marketing objectives aside from sales that require a value exchange, hence the transition to “value propositions” as we know them today.
At its most basic level, a value proposition is a promise of value that you make in exchange for something else (e.g. an email address, purchase, social share, comment, etc.)
These days, people don’t make transactions willy nilly. If you want them to give you their time, attention, money, or email address, then you need to give them a compelling reason.
That reason is your value proposition.
But as I’m sure you know, you can’t just promise value. You need to promise unique value. You need to position your product, company, offer, or personal brand as different from and better than your competitor’s.
In his book, Ogilvy On Advertising, David Ogilvy shares a few examples of why your value proposition must be unique:
Try to find a promise which is not only persuasive, but also unique.
For example, ‘makes a perfect cup of coffee every time’ may get the highest score on persuasion, but it is not unique.
You may find that ‘gets you clean’ is the winning promise for a soap, but I doubt if it is sufficiently unique to make the cash register ring.
Keep in mind that you’re competing for a small amount of space in a very crowded brain. You need to give people a trigger to remember you by, and your value proposition is a great trigger to start with.
Now that you know what a value proposition is, let’s look at some of the qualities that make them effective.
Creating an effective value proposition
Reeves noted in his book that advertisers were often ineffective with their copy. So to help out, he offered three criteria for creating unique selling propositions.
[Disclaimer: I updated the criteria to make them applicable to digital marketing]
- Each marketing asset must make a proposition to the customer. This is not just a bunch of adjectives or features; each request should propose a specific, tangible benefit.
- The proposition must also be unique, meaning none of your competitors should be able to make the same claim.
- The proposition must be strong enough to be persuasive.
Helpful, but not exactly a step-by-step formula. That’s why I’ve included a four-step process for creating your own value propositions below.
Step 1: Identify your audience
This shouldn’t be hard if you’ve already put together a mission statement or business plan, but in case you haven’t identified your audience already, it’s important that you do so.
Your audience could be identified by things like:
- and everything else you can think of!
The more specific you can be, the better.
My personal favorite is to focus on problems, because everyone has them and we’re all motivated to solve them. If you can empathize with your audience’s problems and position your value propositions as solutions to those problems, you’re well on your way to writing great value propositions.
Side Note: If you put your audience down as “everyone,” you’re doing this wrong. Even the most broadly useful consumer products aren’t going to be compelling to everyone. It’s not just who can BENEFIT from your product, but who is MOTIVATED to purchase it.
Each niche audience has unique motivations and needs, so it’s essential that you take this first step so you can cater your value propositions to their motivations.
For example, a family lawyer who touts his undergraduate engineering degree isn’t motivating his potential clients. On the other hand, if he were a lawyer in intellectual property, an engineering background could be an attractive quality.
Knowing your audience empowers you to create a relevant value proposition, like Harley Davidson’s: “American by birth. Rebel by choice.”
Notice how Harley catered to its audience (rebels) and identified what makes their brand unique in the motorcycle industry (American-made)? Simple, but powerful.
Some tactics you can use to better understand your audience include:
- Conducting audience surveys
- Developing Empathy Maps
- Use Google Analytics to find out which topics are hot
- Visit forums where your audience hangs out and look for common questions or problems
Step 2: Assess your audience’s reaction to your product
Creating minimally viable products is all the rage these days, but it’s not a strategy I advise unless you really like gambling with your time and livelihood. You’ll find yourself much more successful if you control every variable you can, especially the quality and appeal of your product.
Most products flop because they aren’t valuable or unique enough to take market share from your more established competitors.
That’s why when Procter & Gamble launches new products, they provide samples in test markets to see if their audience actually prefers their new product over the competition. If it doesn’t take top marks, they go back to product development.
If your product is already competitive, this should be easy. If it’s not, you may want to consider working on your product some more.
When you begin test marketing your product, track what your test subjects say about your product. Jot down the exact words they use to describe why your product is better.
Similarly, if you’re trying to build thought leadership, you’ll want to “test market” your personal brand. The absolute best way to do this is guest blogging.
Simply find some blogs that share a similar audience and test your approach there. If your post does better than an average post on that blog, there’s a good chance that your personal value proposition is effective. If not, you may want to consider a different value proposition.
Step 3: Identify the biggest problem your product solves
Now that you know who your target audience is and have confirmed they find you and your product attractive, it’s time to drill down on how you actually position yourself. This means identifying the biggest problem you can help them solve.
But in addition to identifying the problem, you should determine if the problem your product or approach solves is “latent pain” or “admitted pain,” because that determination will also affect how you position yourself.
- Admitted pain is when your potential buyers know they have a problem that needs a solution. If your product resolves a well-understood problem, then you can proceed to Step 4
- Latent pain is the opposite, or when your buyers don’t yet realize how badly their lives suck without your product.
I launched Authority Unleashed after years of helping brands and entrepreneurs establish thought leadership. Before I started, I knew there was demand for systems and strategies that could help people achieve that goal.
Working with admitted pain is easier, because you don’t need to educate your prospects first. The downside is that you probably have more competition.
With latent pain, on the other hand, you need to make your audience realize that the pain exists before offering your solution.
As an example, the first iPod resolved a latent pain.
Before digital mp3 players, nobody realized how “bad” portable CD players were. Apple cleverly turned America’s collective latent pain into admitted pain when they began airing ads of people doing things with iPods you could never do with a CD player…like dancing.
Check out the video and you’ll see what I mean.
Step 4: Write your unique value proposition
By now you know who your audience is, how they feel about your product, and the biggest problems they face that your product can help them solve. The next step is actually writing your value proposition.
Remember the three components of a successful value proposition:
- It offers a specific, tangible benefit
- It is unique
- It is persuasive enough to win business
What NOT to do: “We offer a 30-minute delivery guarantee.”
What TO do: “You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less — or it’s free.”- Dominos
When crafting your value proposition, it’s essential to use “you” statements instead of “I” statements. In marketing, it’s never about you, it’s about what you can do for your customers; they’re the center of your universe.
In addition to how you frame the benefit, it’s also helpful if it’s a demonstrable benefit, or something you can prove the first time your customers try it. You may also be able to demonstrate it clearly in your advertisements.
With products that have a large degree of parity, such as light beers, this is a serious challenge. How do you differentiate your product aside from flavor (too subjective), price (decreases margins) or advertising (decreases margins)?
In such cases, it may serve you well to create a unique differentiator for your personal brand or product. What can you do differently that will help you stand out from the crowd?
Check out Miller’s Light’s 15-second video and you’ll see how they didn’t even need words to deliver their unique value proposition.
Types of value propositions you should use
There are several situations where you should use value propositions in your marketing. I like to break them up into two different groups:
Permanent Value Propositions
- Your personal brand: what differentiates you from other influencers in your niche?
- Your company’s brand: what differentiates your company from the competition?
- Your product’s value proposition: what makes your product different from and better than competing products in your industry?
For permanent value propositions, I recommend following the research steps outlined in this article to ensure you’re positioning yourself for long-term success.
Contextual Value Propositions
- Headlines: what value can your readers expect if they read your article?
- Social media posts: why should someone click on your link?
- Calls-to-Action: why should someone click your button or fill out your form?
With contextual value propositions, you may not always have adequate time to create the BEST possible value proposition, but you should definitely make sure you at least have one. From there, you can run A/B tests to see which value propositions are most compelling to your target audience.
Boom. That’s pretty much it. You’re ready to start writing your very own unique value propositions. Plug them into your marketing materials and watch your profits soar.
A final word of caution
It’s essential that your value propositions be honest.
Nothing will accelerate the destruction of your brand like a strong, but dishonest USP. Customer retention is the key to a profitable business and when people uncover your dishonesty, they won’t give your brand a second chance.
If you feel the need to be dishonest with your USP, then your product isn’t good enough. If that’s the case, don’t do anything rash. Simply take some time and focus on improving your product so you can bring something unique to the market.